If you use a food processor or spice grinder, you might not think you need a mortar and pestle, like our top pick, the Frieling Cilio Goliath Mortar and Pestle (available at Amazon) . In some ways, you could be right: Modern electrical appliances can do everything this ancient tool can do, faster and without the extra elbow grease. But are you sacrificing flavor by tossing pesto ingredients into a food processor, and can you get more out of spices like peppercorns and coriander seeds if you crush them by hand?
After testing nine of the top mortars and pestles, we can say that the food we made in these hand-powered tools had an extra-special quality to them. Doing things the old-fashioned way and crushing the ingredients (instead of cutting them with a blade) released more flavors and aromas, resulting in a better-tasting product. That said, not all the mortars and pestles could handle the tasks we threw at them. The ones that exhibited the highest results and were the easiest to use were made from granite, but we also discovered a few favorites made from stoneware and marble that doubled as gorgeous serving bowls.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
Frieling Cilio Goliath Mortar & Pestle
When it comes to performance and design, the Frieling Cilio Goliath has it all. It's a seriously heavy-duty product: weighing in at a massive 14.5 pounds, this unit is significantly heavier than any other model we found. It won't even think of sliding around on the counter as you use it! That heft also helps it make quick work of everything you might throw at it; the heavy pestle basically does most of the work for you, turning peppercorn into dust in seconds and pulverizing garlic cloves into a fine paste. In fact, it tackles every task with ease, from herbs and seeds to transforming basil leaves into pureed pesto and chili peppers into curry paste.
The design is well thought out, too. The pestle’s wide and rounded bottom helps it to crush and grind, but the tapered top is comfortable to hold. It's also sufficiently tall, so you can grip the top of the pestle without rubbing your hands against the side of the mortar. The tall sides of the mortar bowl keep food from escaping, and it can hold about three cups of liquid (or enough guacamole to feed a crowd!). We're also happy with the appearance of the set, and it looks nice enough that you can bring the entire bowl to the table when serving guests. The only downside? We mentioned it’s massive and heavy, which makes moving and storing the bowl more difficult than some smaller models. It's also not easy to clean and remove the contents from the bowl, but we think that’s worth it considering how it absolutely aces all kitchen tasks.
Put it all together, and the Frieling Cilio Goliath was a shoo-in for our pick as Best Overall. If you’re looking for our absolute favorite, and you don’t mind its large, heavy profile, this is the one for you.
The ChefSofi performs just as well as our top pick, but it’s available for a fraction of the cost. It’s also smaller and lighter, clocking in at a still-impressive 7 pounds. Between the weight and the non-slip pad at the base of the mortar, we're pleased to report that this bowl won't move around as you use it. The pestle is more than large enough, too—it’s just as tall as our winning set, but the mortar bowl is much lower. That gives more than enough room to keep hands free from rubbing against the sides. That extra clearance also ensures plenty of leverage when it comes to crushing seeds and pureeing herbs.
At first, we were worried that the smaller size might not be big enough, but as it turns out the two-cup capacity of the bowl is more than sufficient to make a two-avocado guacamole or a four-serving batch of pesto. The inside of the bowl is smoother than others, but is rough enough to create pastes and purees without issue. It’s also worth noting that this model does require an initial seasoning—grinding up white rice to remove any granite bits that may be leftover from the manufacturing process. Luckily, you only need to season it once, and grinding up rice is a great way to practice and get comfortable with your new accessory.
In the end, it’s a well-performing, heavy-duty product that’s big enough—but not too big. As a bonus, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get it, which makes it a no-brainer to name this one as our Best Value pick.
When it comes to overall score, the Laevo Reversible Marble Mortar and Pestle actually tied with our winning granite pick. This marble mortar and pestle set is well-designed and functional, and it looks great doing it. It comes with a non-slip pad, which keeps the bowl from sliding around when in use. The pestle has a comfortable grip, and it's heavy enough to do most of the grinding work for you. The inside of the mortar is rough enough to crush peppercorns into a fine powder and turn garlic into a paste, and its two-cup capacity is large enough to fit a batch of pesto. As a bonus, the mortar doubles as a really beautiful serving bowl for guacamole! If our winning pick is out of stock or you are specifically looking for a marble model, this is the one for you.
There's a lot to like about the Emile Henry. The ceramic mortar is glazed on the outside but has an unglazed, nonporous interior. It's just rough enough to mash garlic into a paste and grind peppercorns. Without ridges inside, this mortar and pestle struggles to turn peppercorns into as fine a powder as its granite competition, and it has trouble with turning chili peppers into curry paste. But the thing we really love about the Emile Henry is its smart design. The 2-cup capacity bowl has tall edges to keep food from splashing out, and the four-corner design makes it easy to grip. That’s an important feature since the bowl isn't heavy enough to stay put on its own as it's used. The wooden-handled pestle is also extremely comfortable, and the whole thing looks nice enough to double as a serving bowl. It's dishwasher safe, too!
If having a showpiece is more important than having a completely functional product, the Le Creuset won’t disappoint. We don't have any complaints about the pestle, and the 20-ounce stoneware mortar is large enough to handle every task you could throw at it. The wide, tapered edges do a great job at keeping the peppercorns from flying out as you crush them, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any ridges on the interior, and you may have trouble transforming whole spices into a very fine grind. It does just fine on pesto and guacamole, but it isn't rough enough inside to turn peppers into a fine paste. In the end, we’d say it’s good for most tasks, but not all of them.
What You Should Know About Buying a Mortar and Pestle
Every task you can throw at a mortar and pestle can be done—more hands-off and faster—by an electrical appliance. Mini food processors or blenders can make pesto and curry paste, and spice grinders can turn hard peppercorns into a pile of dust in a matter of seconds. You can even make things like guacamole without any extra tools—just chop your ingredients and combine them with a fork in a regular old bowl.
So why invest in a mortar and pestle? It’s traditional, and it preserves the way food was made for hundreds of years. Before electricity, how do you think curry paste was made? How about crushing spices to add pungent flavor and fresh aromas to soups and stews? Yup, you guessed it, the mortar and pestle. What makes this device so special is its ability to crush food and mash plant fibers until they’re as soft as a puree. Just use the pestle for grinding the ingredient inside the mortar bowl.
When we compared hand-made pesto in the mortar and pestle with the one we made in a blender, the difference was night and day. Our hard work and elbow grease produced a sauce that had more flavor and aroma as compared to the one made with the stainless steel blades of the blender. Even guacamole tasted better—crushing the onion, garlic, and cilantro before adding the avocado brought out essential oils and flavors that weren’t detectable in our fork-mashed version.
Once you have a mortar and pestle, you'll use it for so much more than grinding spices. Pull it out the next time you make salad dressings or dips; use it to crush fresh herbs to release their essential oils; you can even pulverize fruit for pie filling or baby food. The possibilities are endless!
What to Look For in a Mortar and Pestle
Not all of the mortars and pestles passed our tests. The stainless steel model wasn’t able to do much more than crush peppercorns, and the marble and stone mortars and pestles didn’t have a rough enough interior to fully pulverize fresh and dried chilies into a paste.
The first thing to look at is the pestle weight, size, and shape. If it’s not comfortable to use, it doesn’t matter how effective it is, so it’s worth being picky in this department. Too-short pestles forced our hands into the mortar, scraping them against the sides, and ones without broad bottoms seemed to push food around the inside without actually crushing it. When you’re looking at the setup, you want the pestle to stick out of the bowl a few inches. Ideally, it’s also rounded on the top so it won’t dig uncomfortably into your palm as you use it. It’s also good if it’s heavy—that means it will do a lot of the crushing for you!
From there, you want a mortar that’s not polished on the inside. The more rough grooves it has, the better; these grip onto the food and help obliterate the fibers to create a paste or puree. Stoneware and marble mortars and pestles have lightly rough insides, but the granite models seemed to do the best job at gripping and ripping. They also felt the sturdiest, not moving around as much as we used them, and we weren’t afraid they might crack and chip like ceramic.
The final factor is bowl shape and size. Mortars that were too wide don’t have adequate rims to keep the food from spilling out as you crush it. This becomes especially problematic with tiny little peppercorns, which just love jumping around on the countertops. When it comes to size, it’s really up to you to decide how you’ll use it. If you cook for a crowd and you want plenty of extra space, go for a mortar with a four-cup capacity. A two-cup model works just fine for most tasks, and anything smaller than that can likely only handle crushing small amounts of nuts or seeds.
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